Disappearing languages, vanishing voices

Source– The post is based on the article “Disappearing languages, vanishing voices” published in “The Hindu” on 8th September 2023.

Syllabus: GS1- Art and Culture

Relevance- Issues related to language

News– The article explains the loss of linguistic diversity across the world.

How is linguistic diversity across the world in decline?

A mathematical model, featured in The Economic Journal, predicts that within the next century, around 40% of languages with fewer than 35,000 speakers will become extinct.

The ILD reveals a global decline in linguistic diversity by 20% from 1970 to 2005. Regionally, indigenous linguistic diversity has seen a 60% decline in the Americas, a 30% drop in the Pacific region, and an almost 20% decrease in Africa.

The index aims to analyse the distribution of speakers among all spoken languages globally.

A growing number of people worldwide are shifting towards just a handful of dominant languages, at the expense of smaller ones.

This trend has led to a loss of linguistic diversity, and resulted in the eventual extinction of some languages.

According to the Linguistic Society of America, many languages today have only one living native speaker.

Approximately half of the global population speaks one of the ten most widely spoken languages as their mother tongue. It poses a significant threat to language diversity.

What are the possible reasons behind loss of linguistic diversity?

The decline in language diversity and the extinction of languages are closely linked to migration patterns.

When people migrate to countries where a dominant language is spoken, they adopt that dominant language to access the social and economic benefits.

As a result, first-generation migrants typically become bilingual, the next generation may have a weaker grasp of their mother tongue. The third generation may no longer speak their mother language, even within the family.

India serves as an illustrative example. There is increasing migration to English-speaking nations. English currently boasts 340 million native speakers and over 1.2 billion second language speakers.

\What are some facts about the Language Diversity Index (LDI)?

Language Diversity Index (LDI) calculates the probability that two randomly selected individuals from a population will have different mother tongues.

This index ranges from 0 (everyone shares the same mother tongue) to 1 (no two individuals have the same mother tongue).

Naturally, countries with a smaller variety of mother languages tend to have a lower LDI. Countries with a greater diversity of mother tongues have a higher LDI. For instance, the United Kingdom has an LDI of 0.139, compared to India’s 0.930.

In terms of LDI, the three countries with the lowest rankings are Haiti (0.000), Cuba (0.001), and Samoa (0.002). The top three countries are Papua Guinea (0.990), Vanuatu (0.972), and the Solomon Islands (0.965).

What are the impacts of loss in linguistic diversity?

When these languages disappear, they take with them elements of identity, culture, and indigenous knowledge.

The extinction of languages leads to a reduction in cultural diversity and an increase in cultural homogenization.

What is the situation in India?

In a 2018 report by UNESCO, it was highlighted that India is facing the potential extinction of 42 languages.

UNESCO’s criteria for potential endangerment classify any language spoken by only 10,000 people as being at risk. The majority of these endangered languages are spoken by indigenous tribal groups across India.

Way forward-

It is essential to explore strategies to halt the decline of languages on a global scale. Efforts should be made to preserve some of the endangered languages.

The Linguistic Society of America (LSA) is making commendable efforts to study and document these endangered languages. They are creating video and audio recordings, and written records of these languages, along with translations.

It is hoped that other institutions will follow suit and take action to mitigate the disappearance of languages in any way possible.

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